Local Histories- Kumbaya

The last thing one might think of when considering the cultural origins of the ubiquitous hippie-camp song Kumbaya, is early 20th Century Oregon. Even if you did, it would be easy to wrongly assume that the song had its origins in regional Native American culture and was appropriated at some time for the drum circles and festivals of the New Age generation. Not so. In fact, the copyright for Kumbaya (Come By Here) has long been held by a white Pastor from Portland, Oregon, who claimed to have first heard it sung by a street evangelist in the city in the early 1930’s. In truth, Kumbaya, is now widely considered to have originated with slaves in the Southeast, speakers of Gullah, and gained popularity during the scouting and summer camp movement of the 1920’s. How did it make its way to Oregon in the 1930’s? Likely with the Ku Klux Klan, who migrated west to Oregon in droves the in 1920’s, making Eugene and Portland its national headquarters. Decades later, a new migration of liberal Jesus People would adopt the song, popularized by Joni Mitchell, as an anthem, forgetting entirely its origins and whitewashing its significance.

Share the joy